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Bill Thayer

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p853 Palmus

Article by Philip Smith, B.A., of the University of London
on p853 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

PALMUS, properly the width of the open hand, or, more exactly, of the four fingers, was used by the Romans for two different measures of length, namely, as the translation of the Greek παλαιστή, or δῶρον in old Greek, and σπιθαμή respectively. In the former sense it is equal to 4 digits, or 3 inches, or ¼th of a foot, or ⅙th of the cubit. [Mensura, p751B] Jerome (in Ezech. 40) expressly states that this was its proper meaning, but that the Greek σπιθαμή was also called by some palmus; or, for the sake of distinction, palma; in which sense it would be ¾ths of a foot. Hence some writers distinguish, in the old Roman metrical system, a palmus major of 3 inches, and they suppose that the former is referred to by Varro (R. R. III.7). Ideler has, however, shown that this supposition is groundless, and that Varro refers to the common palm of 4 digits (3 inches), and the larger palm only occurs in later Roman writers. (Ueber die Längen und Flackenmasse der Alten, p129). From this large palmus of 9 inches the modern Roman palmo is derived.

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Page updated: 16 Feb 09